Sunday, August 30, 2009

2009 Husker Football Prognostication

With the 2009 season now less than a week away, it's time to predict the 2009 Husker football season. My track record isn't too bad, as I've only really missed one season. Last season, I predicted 9-3 for the regular season, missing it by one game. I didn't see the 2007 meltdown coming, predicting 10-3 instead. I did nail 2006 by predicting a 9-3 regular season and a Big XII North championsihp. I was one game off in 2005 as well, predicting 8-3 in the regular season.

Nebraska isn't alone in having questions in 2009 in the Big XII North. Only Kansas returns a quality starting quarterback. Most North division teams have questions regarding their offensive line. And even with a whole new set of linebackers in 2009, the Huskers should have the strongest defense in the North.

On offense, I expect the offense to lean on Roy Helu as much as they can. Helu's injury problems over the last year (shoulder, knee, hamstring) raise questions about his durability, but only Missouri's Derrick Washington was more productive in the North last season. Can the offensive line clear enough running room for Helu? That's question #1 for the Huskers. Question #2 is who will step up to back up Helu? Rex Burkhead earned the nickname "Superman" in high school, but I'd rather wait to see him deliver against college competition first. Developing a solid running game helps Nebraska answer the next two questions. How will Zac Lee grow into the quarterback position? Who steps up besides the tight ends at receiver? My expectation is that a solid running game opens up the play-action pass and eases the transition for Lee. Other than Niles Paul and Menelik Holt, the Husker wide receivers have very little experience. Potential ... yes. But assuming large production out of those receivers based on "potential" is a dangerous proposition.

On defense, the Huskers should be stout up front with one of the best lines in the conference. I'm assuming that linebacker play should be better when the only returning starter is being passed up on the depth chart. The secondary improved gradually all of last season, and I expect them to show the biggest improvement this season. They talk about forcing more turnovers this season, and while nobody should expect a rerun of 2003's turnover creators, the Huskers should be able to improve significantly from 97th nationally.

So game by game:

Florida Atlantic: Solid passing game should give us a good idea as to the progress of the Husker defense. Likewise, the holes on the defensive side of the ball should allow the Husker offense to gradually warm up. Chance of Husker victory: 97%
Arkansas State: Best of the three Sun Belt opponents Nebraska will face, and might be a good tuneup for Virginia Tech. Chance of Husker victory: 90%
Virginia Tech: Consensus top-ten team, but will definitely miss running back Darren Evans. This game could send the Huskers in either direction, as a victory could spark this team into national prominence. A bad loss could remind Husker fans of last year's Missouri game. Chance of Husker victory: 30%
Louisiana-Lafayette New Mexico State: Strike up the band; this game is being played for the money. Chance of Husker victory: 99%
Missouri: On offense, both teams need to replace a quarterback, their top receivers, and a couple of offensive linemen. Both return their best running back, though. On defense, both return all-American candidates in Sean Weatherspoon and Ndamukong Suh. The difference: Nebraska's defense improved down the stretch last season while Missouri's regressed for the most part. Chance of Husker victory: 60%
Texas Tech: Nebraska almost won in Lubbock last season. While Tech needs to replace their stars, that's never slowed the Raiders down in the past. Chance of Husker victory: 70%
Iowa State: The rebuilding begins anew for the 'Clones. Chance of Husker victory: 90%
Baylor: This is a scary trap game for the Big Red. Missouri nearly lost in Waco last season. The Huskers could be looking ahead to the next game. Chance of Husker victory: 45%
Oklahoma: News flash: The Sooners are good. It should be closer than 2008...but that still probably won't be good enough. Chance of Husker victory: 15%
Kansas: Kansas could be better at their skill positions on offense...and worse everywhere else. Chance of Husker victory: 55%
Kansas State: Ron Prince seems to have run the Wildcat program into the ground. Chance of Husker victory: 90%
Colorado: Some people think Colorado is a dark horse to challenge in the North. Really? The Buffs nearly lost to Iowa State and Kansas State at home last season. This could be the end of the Dan Hawkins era in Boulder. Chance of Husker victory: 70%

How does it break out in the end? In the end, I think they'll probably lose 4 games: Va Tech, Oklahoma, and probably one or two of the following: Missouri, Texas Tech, Baylor, and Kansas. I'd like to say 9-3, but I'm hedging my bets and going with 8-4. I do think there is an upside to this season, and if everything works out the way I think it could, 10-2 or even 11-1 isn't completely out of the question.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Quentin Castille Transfering to Northwestern (LA) State

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports that former Husker I-back Quentin Castille is transferring to Northwestern State, a division 1-AA (officialy known as the Football Championship Subdivision or FCS) school in Natchitoches, LA. Since Castille is transferring down a division, he'll be eligible to play immediately.

Not a surprising move, and it's great to see Castille staying in school. Conspiracy theorists who think that Bo Pelini was somehow out to "get" Castille should note that Castille's new head coach is Bradley Dale Peveto, who is in his first season coaching the Demons. Peveto previously was linebackers coach at LSU during Pelini's three year stint as the Tigers' defensive coordinator.

You think that Peveto didn't talk to Pelini in the last week about Castille? The writing on the wall is clear to me in this situation. It doesn't matter what Castille did (or didn't do) to get thrown off the team to me. Castille broke a rule, and by all accounts did it over and over and over again. Castille was warned that if he did it again, he'd be off the team. It happened again, and forced Pelini's hand. But Pelini didn't just wash his hands of the situation, he helped him find another program and essentially gave him yet another chance.

Let's hope Quentin finally learned his lesson, and makes the most of his opportunity to get back on the football field. He has too much talent to waste it on off-the-field issues.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Preseason BlogPoll

Based on feedback, here's my revised preseason blogpoll. Ohio State and Penn State were bumped down after further review. After Quentin Castille's departure, I'm bumping Nebraska down as well. (Yet some people will still call me a homer...) Remember, this is all expectations so it all gets thrown away in about 11 days.
1 Florida
2 Texas
3 Oklahoma
4 Southern Cal
6 California
7 Alabama
8 Boise State
9 Virginia Tech
10 Oklahoma State
11 Ohio State
12 Georgia
13 Brigham Young
14 TCU
15 Penn State
16 Mississippi
17 Oregon
18 Utah
19 Kansas
20 Georgia Tech
21 Florida State
22 Nebraska
23 Oregon State
24 Miami (Florida)
25 Texas Tech

Notable teams left out: Notre Dame and the entire Big East. They'll have to earn their way in on the field.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Questions at Linebacker Start to be Answered; More Questions at I-Back

Last week, I noted that we still hadn't heard about how things were shaping up at linebacker and on the offensive line. Sounds like injuries are going to keep the o-line an open question for now, which is somewhat concerning at this point. I'd be more concerned if everybody was healthy and the questions were being asked.

At linebacker, a depth chart is now emerging. Redshirt freshman Sean Fisher is taking charge at linebacker. He's got defensive end height and safety speed, so split the difference at plug him in at linebacker. Mathew May looks to be the other linebacker in nickel defenses. Mike Ekeler points out that May is another recruitnik failure, since the only offers he received were from division 2 schools. Blake Lawrence and Will Compton seem to be emerging as top backups. Colton Koehler seems to have faded, with still no sign of the slimmed down Phillip Dillard reemerging.

At I-back, the departure of Quentin Castille has turned Nebraska's expected strength on offense into disarray. A lot of people still question just what Castille did to get suspended, but that's not the point. It's a coaches decision, and unless/until something more specific is divulged, there's no point in speculating further. Frankly, it's none of our concern either. If the coaches were to divulge the reasons, every blog (including this one, in all likelihood) would be retrying the case in public. The Lincoln and Omaha newspapers monitor police reports, so we know there aren't any pending criminal cases.

My #1 concern in this situation is Castille at this point. Will he continue to attend classes, will he transfer, or will he drop out? I understand Bo Pelini has already handed out his scholarship, so he's not coming back to the team. He might choose to transfer; he's got a redshirt season available if he can find a division 1-A team to transfer to quickly. Otherwise, there's always 1-AA; he might even be eligible immediately. The worst decision for Q would be to simply drop out; that would compound Castille's mistake.

What about football? I've felt that the combination of Helu and Castille would give Nebraska one of the Big XII's best running back tandems. Without Castille, hardly --- especially since Helu has seemed to have injury concerns as of late. (Shoulder during the first two months of the 2008 season, knee in the Gator Bowl, hamstring in spring practice.) True freshman Rex Burkhead has jumped up to #2 on the depth chart; his Plano (TX) High nickname of "Superman" no doubt has Husker fans in full drool mode to see him in a couple of weeks. But at 5'11" and 200 pounds, he's not going to be the candidate to be that pounding back that might be needed in short yardage situations. Neither is Marcus Mendoza, who apparently is moving back from wide receiver. (That indicates that depth at wide receiver might be better than we anticipated.) My vote is probably either Lester Ward (who I liked in the spring game) or Collins Okafor.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Should Teams Be Rewarded or Penalized for Weak Schedules

An interesting dichotomy has emerged in the last week or so with the Husker blogs that participate in the CBS BlogPoll, and it all revolves around scheduling tough opponents. Last week, Jon over at released his draft ballot for the Top Ten, where he penalized Texas for scheduling Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP, and Central Florida as non-conference foes. That's a position I like, though I felt I couldn't penalize Texas just yet, especially after I picked Texas to win the Big XII in my preseason predictions. But once the season goes kicks off, it'll be tough to keep Texas up in the rankings the first couple of weeks since they won't play anybody.

Yesterday at the Big Red Network, Steve Hanaway asked if it was wise for Nebraska to play Virginia Tech. His theory is that a non-conference win does little for your national resume, and a loss does far more damage. Hanaway subscribes to the theory that going undefeated is sufficient to earn a berth in the national championship game, so why take unnecessary chances in the nonconference schedule? (Of course, tell that to Auburn after they went undefeated in 2004 yet failed to get a BCS Championship Game berth.)

Today over at DoubleExtraPoint, Sammy Vegas released his preseason BlogPoll ballot featuring #8 Notre Dame, #9 Ole Miss, #23 Rutgers, and #24 Pitt. His reasoning: they play relatively easy schedules compare to other teams, and to him, it's the win totals that matter, not who you beat. (For comparison purposes, I ranked Ole Miss #16, and did not rank Notre Dame, Rutgers, and Pitt on my preseason ballot.)

I'm not going to deny Steve and Sammy's arguments that wins matter most. Tom Osborne used that argument to some extent after the 1997 season when he claimed "We won 13, and that's all we played." The most absurd case of this is Brigham Young in 1984. 25 years ago, BYU won the WAC and defeated a 6-5 Michigan squad in the Holiday Bowl. The reward: A national championship as they were the only undefeated team in the nation. But does anybody REALLY believe that BYU was the best college football team in 1984?

I'm a firm believer that sportswriters seriously damaged college football when they criticized the BCS formula in 2000, when Florida State edged out Miami for the right to play Oklahoma. Miami won a head-to-head matchup, but Florida State's strength of schedule was higher, and the Seminoles got the bid. The next year, Nebraska's strength of schedule was sufficient to edge out Oregon and Colorado for the right to play whipping boy for Miami, and the BCS formula was refined further to favor wins over all else, no matter the quality. And ever since, teams have scheduled down since rules of the game encourage weak schedules. Lesser opponents don't demand home-and-home series, which means not only more wins, but more home games (and thus, more money from ticket sales).

So now Nebraska finds themselves playing for the Sun Belt Conference championship this season, with non-conference home games against Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, and Louisiana-Lafayette. Is that really good for fans? To a casual fan, maybe. It's an extra opportunity to wear your red, eat a Runza, and see the Huskers with an almost assured victory. But when it's all said and done, will it be satisfying? Will you remember those three games after the season? Not if they win them.

From my perspective, Texas' non-conference games and Nebraska's Sun Belt games really shouldn't count. It's bad for college football; they are being played for the money, not for the sake of competition. They are almost like NFL exhibition games; the sole purpose is to see who's ready to play and to work out the kinks in a game setting. I understand a game or two like that is necessary to get the team ready. But three? One too many as far as I'm concerned.

So how does this change? Simple. Bring strength of schedule back into the equation. Use the NCAA basketball tournament's bracket philosophy: total number of wins isn't nearly as important as who you beat. Beating quality opponents should count for much more than victories by themselves, and playing a quality opponent and losing shouldn't be viewed as negatively. Look at the Nebraska/Texas Tech game last season: was your opinion of the strength of the Huskers higher before or after the game? From a traditional pollster mentality, Nebraska would have fallen in the rankings after the loss (if Nebraska had been anywhere close to being ranked at the time.) But I think most fans felt better about the state of the Huskers after the game than beforehand.

As such, who you play and how you play will count much more to me than just the fact you won. Or as it's engraved into Memorial Stadium:
“Not the victory but the action;

Not the goal but the game;

In the deed the glory”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In 2009, the PowerPoll Joins the BlogPoll

Back in 2007, I was asked to join the ranks of college football bloggers who vote in the "BlogPoll" but I declined at the time. Part of the problem is that rankings start too early and perceptions start becoming reality and end up affecting the final rankings. But I've realized that by not being part of the conversation, I'm not helping change those perceptions. So this year, I'm expanding the PowerPoll to 25 and submitting it into the CBS Sports BlogPoll.

That, in turn, creates a new dilemma. The whole idea of the PowerPoll is to rank teams based on what they've done without the influence of expectations. But what do you do for a preseason poll? Well, I'm going to have to submit my expectations, since I have nothing else to work with. But by that same manner, this all gets thrown out in September when the games actually kick off.

1 Florida
2 Texas
3 Oklahoma
4 Southern Cal
6 California
7 Alabama
8 Boise State
9 Virginia Tech
10 Ohio State
11 Penn State
12 Oklahoma State
13 Georgia
14 Brigham Young
15 TCU
16 Mississippi
17 Oregon
18 Utah
19 Kansas
20 Nebraska
21 Georgia Tech
22 Florida State
23 Oregon State
24 Miami (Florida)
25 Texas Tech

So here's my initial submission. I don't see anyway to vote anybody other than Florida at the top for now. Texas edges out Oklahoma for now, but that'll probably change after week 1. I'll have to give Oklahoma much more credit for playing BYU than I give Texas for playing Louisiana-Monroe.

My bias against Big Ten teams shows here as well. They're going to have to prove themselves. I really wanted to rank Virginia Tech higher, but I had to drop them due to the injury to Darren Evans. (Again...this poll has to be based on perception, so sadly, they get dropped down here.)

This is a draft ballot, so I'm looking for feedback. I've got to admit, I'm really guessing on some of these teams so let me know what I've done wrong. Unless of course, you try to convince me that Notre Dame is worthy of a vote. They're not quite as dreadful as they were in 2007...but "less dreadful" doesn't equate to Top 25.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Night Dessert: Watson Puts a Label on the Husker Offense

Husker offensive coordinator Shawn Watson talked glowingly to the Lincoln Journal-Star about the other offensive coaches. No surprise there; you wouldn't expect any negative talk in the public newspaper. What I found more interesting is that while Watson still claims allegiance to the West Coast Offense, he talks about doing it as a spread offense.

Does that seem inconsistent? Oddly no...unless you think of the Bill Callahan variant of the West Coast Offense. The West Coast offense is more of a philosophy of being multiple: it's being able to run and/or pass out of any formation and personnel grouping. In that light, I'm not sure Bill Callahan really was a West Coast disciple. Perhaps he ran plays like a West Coast team, but how he did it generally didn't seem to match up with how Bill Walsh set it up originally. I went back to a snapshot my wife took in the summer of 2004 at the first Football 101 for Women, where Jay Norvell talked about the history of the West Coast offense.
So when Watson talks about getting ideas from Barney Cotton and Tim Beck on how to expand the offense, he's not abandoning the West Coast offense at all. If anything, he's staying faithful to Bill Walsh's original vision by adapting to the strengths of the players and showing the flexibility of the system.

Watson didn't comfort me at all last week when he mentioned that the offensive personnel this season match up best with the 2007 group. Actually, that thought sent a cold chill down my spine. In fairness, he was referring to the receivers and the speed of Frantz Hardy and Terrence Nunn. I certainly hope that he wasn't comparing Zac Lee to Sam Keller. I think Nebraska has a couple of intriguing additions to the receivers this season in Antonio Bell and Brandon Kinnie that might give the Huskers more of a deep threat than they've shown recently.

One week into practice, and we still haven't heard much about anybody making moves at linebacker and on the offensive line. That's disappointing. Well, I take that back: true freshman Brent Qvale made a great impression, but you almost have to expect that from a 6'7" 330 lb. guy. It's early, but I'd like to see some people pushing for starting time on the first team, not pushing out guys off of the 2nd team.

I got a new perspective on the Kody Spano knee injury yesterday while channel surfing through some coverage of the PGA Championship on the Golf Channel. An orthopedic surgeon wrote into the Golf Channel team to mention how impressive that Tiger Woods was as competitive as he is one year after his surgery. Which got me to thinking: did Nebraska's training staff rush Spano back into fall camp? Now, the doctors and trainers know far more about Spano and ACL injuries than I'll ever know, but I do have to wonder whether his return was accelerated too fast. Modern medicine and surgical techniques have significantly improved the ability to recover from an ACL, but whenever I see a player with an ACL injury return to the field, it still seems to hamper them for about 18 months. Yes, they can get back on the field much sooner, perhaps six to nine months...but a full recovery seems to take a lot longer. Now, Kody Spano's "amazing recovery" from his injury last spring doesn't look all that amazing anymore.

Back to Woods, I really hope that tomorrow's media coverage of the PGA Tournament talks about the winner, Y.E. Yang, and how he won the tournament. Sure, Tiger Woods had a great tournament leading most of the way, but the fact is that Yang won the tournament down the stretch. (How about that chip in for eagle?) The fact that Woods finished second shows that Eldrick Woods is back; he'll be back and dominating the game again shortly. But for this week, the focus belongs not on the Nike pitchman, but rather the man who earned the title on the course.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Big XII Predictions

Time for my predictions for the Big XII this year:


Texas. I think Oklahoma's losses up front and at wide receiver may haunt the Sooners this season. Best case: #1 in South. Worst case: #2 in South.
Oklahoma. But not that bad. OU and Texas are still the cream of the crop in the Big XII. Best Case: #1 in South; Worst case: #2 in South.
Oklahoma State. Yep, they've got the offense to challenge the top two...but not the defense. Best Case: #3 in South; Worst Case: #4 in South
Texas Tech. Did you know that the Red Raiders are the only team to never have a losing record since the formation of the Big XII? Best case: #3 in South; Worst case: #5 in South.
Baylor. Robert Griffin is going to be a force in for the next three years. Best case: #4 in South; Worst case: #6 in South
Texas A&M. It feels like the Aggies are hell-bent on emulating the fraud that was Nebraska football between 2004 and 2007. Best case: #5 in South; Worst Case: #6 in South.

Kansas. The returning offensive skill position players give the Jayhawks a slight edge in my book this season. Best case: #1 in North; Worst case: #3 in North.
Nebraska. Too many offensive question marks, though the defense can carry this squad. Best case: #1 in North; Worst case: #3 in North.
Missouri: Too many question marks on both sides of the ball. Best case: #1 in North; Worst case: #4 in North.
Colorado: Lots of uncertainty here. I could see the Buffs at any extreme. Best case: #1 in North; Worst case: #6 in North.
Iowa State: Yes, that's right. Iowa State nearly pulled off upsets of Colorado and Kansas, and I think Paul Rhoades might invigorate this program. Best case: #4 in North; Worst case: #6 in North
Kansas State: Might not be as bad as Colorado might be, but still might not be any good. The Wildcats will be paying the price for Ron Prince for some time, both financially and talent wise. Best case: #5 in North; Worst case: #6 in North.

Here's how I break it down in the North, with the percentages:

Iowa State2%4%7%15%39%33%
Kansas State1%2%2%14%31%50%
Truth be told, I think Nebraska has the highest upside of any team in the North, but with so much uncertainty, I think Kansas has to be the favorite for now. Missouri has too many questions to me. Iowa State will be a little better this year. Kansas State is simply going to stink this year.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Football Is Back

Yesterday, the Huskers kicked off pre-season practice. My season tickets arrived with a nice-set of retro-style design. Tonight, the NFL Hall of Fame game. Yes, it's just practice and an exhibition game, but it's still football. I don't know if it's a sign of what to expect this season, but when the first touchdown of the season was scored by a punter on a 40 yard fake punt with a fake reverse, you have to figure that once again, we should expect the unexpected.

So now that practice has started, what is there to focus on? First, let's set aside those things that aren't worth focusing on in the pre-season:
  • Zac Lee. Barring injury, we know he's the starting quarterback.
  • Roy Helu and Quentin Castille. One of the best running back tandems in the Big XII.
  • Defensive Line. Ndamukong Suh is a potential first round draft pick; Barry Turner and Pierre Allen might make the Blackshirt front four one of the best in the Big XII behind Oklahoma.

So what is the focus?
  • Wide Receiver. The Huskers will need playmakers to replace Nate Swift and Todd Peterson. We know Menolik Holt will probably lead this group, but who else? Is it Niles Paul? Brandon Kinnie? Marcus Mendoza? Antonio Bell? What about Tim Marlowe or Khiry Cooper?
  • Offensive Line. Phil Steele thinks Nebraska's line is the second best in the Big XII. I'm not so sure about that. I'd like to see some of the backups start to challenge and build depth. This might actually be one of those things that we won't get a good read on until the Virginia Tech game.
  • Linebacker. Phillip Dillard sounds like he's addressed whatever issues moved him from starter to fourth string this spring. Even if Dillard doesn't start, I think Nebraska's linebacker corps will be stronger than it was last season. I'm just curious how the two-deep is going to set up. Will Blake Lawrence step up his game? Will Sean Fisher and Will Compton break through? What about Mathew May? And in the nickel, who will be the top two linebackers?
  • Secondary. Will any of the freshmen who redshirted last season, such as Courtney Osborne or P.J. Smith, shake up the two deep? How will Anthony Blue look? And can these guys cut down on the breakdowns that made November games so much closer than they really were?

I just finished a preview of Kansas State for CornNation, leaving only Colorado on the opponent previews. A lot of people have been suggesting Colorado is a "sleeper" pick in the Big XII, so I've been trying to do some extra research there. And frankly, I'm not seeing it. I'm trying to keep an open mind with the Buffs, but other than some "recruiting experts" touted some incoming players, I see far more negatives than positives. Help me out; what have I missed?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Coaches Rank Huskers 22nd in Preseason Poll: Too High, Too Low, or Just Right?

Today, the USA Today coaches preseason poll was released, with the Nebraska Cornhuskers breaking through at #22. Certainly a sign of respect for where Bo Pelini has rebuilt the program, but is it a fair ranking?

Offhand, while I'm not sure whether #22 is too high or too low, I am sure that if Nebraska is #22, Kansas is too low at #26. The whole idea of a preseason poll is somewhat silly, since it's merely a prediction. What makes that an issue is that these preseason polls tend to set a baseline for week 1, which sets a baseline for week 2, and so on and so forth. That's because some people feel that you cannot downgrade a team unless they lose a game, which doesn't make sense when the initial ranking was made before a team had played a single game.

But why do I feel that Kansas should be ahead of the Huskers at this point? After finishing my preview of the Jayhawks for, I give the edge to the returning offensive skill players in Lawrence. Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier give the Jayhawks a significant advantage over the Huskers, who need to find new playmaker at quarterback and wide receiver. Yes, I think Nebraska has the advantage on defense, but it's not as big as Kansas' advatage at receiver. Both teams need to find linebackers, both return 3 starters on the defensive line (though Ndamukong Suh is by far the best player on either roster), and the Jayhawks might have an edge in the secondary at this point.

So right now, I give the Jayhawks the advantage. But that's in August, based on what players did in the past. 2009 is a whole new season, and I'm optimistic about what Bo Pelini's group will do this season. I've heard some reporters say that Nebraska has the highest upside of any team in the North division, and I agree. I love Roy Helu, and I think Zac Lee could be very good based on what I saw in the spring game. But that's just the spring game, and it's nowhere enough to push the Huskers ahead of the Jayhawks in August. Note that Bo Pelini is also taking a cautious approach as well.

If my observations, expectations (hopes? dreams?) prove to be correct, there will be plenty of time this fall for the Huskers to leap the Jayhawks once the season gets going. But until then, I've still got to put more faith on what players have done in actual games. (With the exception, of course, of those people who insist that you can't drop a team who hasn't lost.)

Looking over the rest of the AP Top 25, I don't see much to quibble over. I think Ohio State at #6 and Penn State at #8 is too high, based on the history of the Big Ten in recent years. I'm not so sure about Ole Miss at #10 at this point either. Notre Dame has no business being ranked until they actually defeat somebody; their best victories from last season were against Navy and Hawai'i. Iowa being one spot ahead of the Huskers is probably curious as well, but nothing to get worked up about at this point.

But hey...we're now down to four weeks left in the offseason, and the end of guesses.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Big XII Players Say Nebraska Has Best Fans, Worst Mascot

The Oklahoman polled 29 of the 38 players who appeared at last week's Big XII media days, and 29% selected Nebraska's fans as the best in the Big XII. (To be fair, 11% in turn chose Nebraska's fans as the worst.) Said one Big XII North division defensive player:
"Nebraska fans always cheer you on, even though they want you to lose."
It all goes back to the old line: Nebraska has it's good fans and bad fans. Nebraska's bad fans are as bad as everybody else's. But painting all Husker fans with the broad brush of bad --- or good, for that matter --- simply isn't accurate. In other topics that the Oklahoma polled players on:

Herbie Husker and 'Lil Red didn't fare so well, tying with Cy the Cyclone for worst mascot. (Although the poll didn't distinguish between the two, I'd bet that poster child for waste of natural resources, 'Lil Red probably was the problem.) Strangely, 10% voted Herbie and Red best mascot.

Bo Pelini tied with Art Briles for third at 13% of the coach players would like to play for. Gary Pinkel, Dan Hawkins, and Mike Sherman failed to get a single vote. Bob Stoops ran away with this one with 39%; Mack Brown received 17% of the vote.

Nebraska's Memorial Stadium tied for second with Texas A&M for best stadium, trailing Texas' Royal Stadium. Iowa State's Jack Trice Stadium was voted the worst stadium, with Missouri's Faurot Field tying Baylor for second worst.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sunday Night Beer: Renovation Time Here and On the Line

Today's World-Herald featured a discussion about the running game, and the need to control it on both sides of the ball. Certainly, Nebraska's defensive line grew of age last season and did a pretty good job of shutting down the run game towards the end of the season. But is that so important in the pass-happy Big XII conference we find ourselves in? Maybe it's not so important to stop the run, but some of the elements of a strong rush defense (like a strong defensive line) also lend themselves to a strong pass defense. Conversely, you can have a statistically good rushing defense because the passing defense is so porous that the offenses never get much of a chance (or need) to run the ball.

It raises one of my lingering questions about Nebraska in 2009: will we see a dominant offensive line gel this season? With a new quarterback and new receivers, but experienced I-backs, I expect the Huskers to "pound the rock" (to quote one of the "Worst. Coaches. Ever.") this fall. Phil Steele ranks the Husker o-line second best in the conference...but is that really so? I'm not sure I'm quite ready to endorse that opinion just yet.

In 2009, I look for Nebraska to continue trying to build on what they accomplished last season: building a ball-control offense to keep opposing defenses off the field. With the departures of Joe Ganz, Nate Swift, and Todd Peterson, it's going to initially fall on Roy Helu, Quentin Castille, and the offensive line to keep the chains moving. That will give Zac Lee and a young receiver corp time to develop. It'll be done in a different fashion in 2009 versus 2008, but the goal is the same: dominate the time-of-possession statistic and put points on the board since no matter how good the Blackshirts are, the high-powered offenses of the Big XII will still score.

You may have noticed a few changes around here; hopefully you like them. Spent a little time over the weekend going through old photos and picking some to feature here on the blog, and then was up a little too late last night getting everything set up here. (I'm sure some of my co-workers cringed at the idea of me pretending to be a designer, but I think I didn't do too badly.) Nothing's permanent at this point, but it's probably overdue for a little refreshing.

One of new features of this update is Twitter and Facebook integration. Updates from this blog have been sent to those "Web 2.0" (or "Social Media", as some prefer to call them) sites for some time, and it really is a convenient way to track what people are saying. And with Twitter, it really starts to become a two way conversation, if only in 140 character updates. Now, the links between Twitter and the blog are two-way, as tweets appear here as well. How useful will this all be? Hard to say, but it's much quicker and easier to send out a quick tweet than getting a full blog entry posted. With Facebook, it's simply a way to make it easier to stay updated. If you become a "fan" on Facebook, then updates from the blog will be added to your Facebook page automatically. If you haven't tried Facebook yet, I encourage you to do so; it's a great way to keep up to date from anybody and everybody you wish you had more time to talk to.

If you have any thoughts about the updates, let me know. I saved the old version in case we need to go back "the way it was"...